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In the Fade
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by Jay Seaver

"Simple story told extraordinarily well."
5 stars

The last act of "In the Fade" doesn't seem like it should be especially nerve-wracking - the film has rearranged itself to more closely resemble a thriller, certainly, and the condensed form doesn't hurt, although that may not generate tension on its own. But despite that, it felt like the caffeine from a soda I drank at work hours earlier was just hitting me - all the meticulous work Faith Akin and his collaborators put into the film was having a cumulative effect, and getting every little thing right is the way a good movie becomes a great one and a movie that never seemed to be about creating excitement, per se, has one on pins and needles by the end.

It opens with a flashback to prison, where jovial immigrant Nuri Sekreci (Numan Acar) is about to marry Katja Jenssen (Diane Kruger); cut to a few years later, and Katja is picking their 6-year-old son Rocco up from school and dropping him off to the small office where Nuri runs a small business that serves Hamburg's Turkish community in a number of ways so he can watch the boy while Katja has a spa day with her pregnant sister Birgit (Samia Muriel Chancrin). She returns to a horrific scene, and while the police seem eager to focus on Nuri's past as a drug dealer or other immigrant communities, Katja is certain that the perpetrators are homegrown neo-Nazis.

Despite that keyed-up reaction as the film started toward its finish, this isn't a thriller, not really. The first chunk of the movie is an unvarnished look at loss and pain, although it's got a few interesting tricks to play along the way. Pay close attention, for instance, to how Akin makes it easy for even an open-minded viewer to notice Nuri's friends or the lady in a headscarf as Katja leaves the office even though she actually has a quick, important conversation with someone she will soon finger for the crime - it's a moment that could prod viewers to recognize their own prejudices, but the manipulation involved is just clear enough that it can come across as fair rather than accusatory. Once the film is firmly into the aftermath, there's similar attention to detail that links what comes before or after; a shot will linger on the toys that have been left lying around the Sekrecis' house, sure, but the characters are never just sitting, staring into a void; they're doing something and interacting, and while there will be a thread between those little activities and what happens later, it's seldom set-up for an "aha!" moment as opposed to a bit of cohesion that holds the movie together. It's not too subtle to be consciously seen, but it is the sort of thing a person notes and accepts without surprise because it fits with what one has seen in limited previous dealings with these people.

It's anchored by a phenomenal Diane Kruger, who plays a devastated widow to frayed perfection. Somewhat surprisingly, it's the first film from her native Germany that she's made in a 15-plus-year career - the actress and character even share the same hometown - although that in and of itself doesn't explain why it's likely her best work. She often projects an uncertainty where others might be decisive, a low-key indication that much of the time, her brain is paralyzed choosing between rage, sadness, and confusion, and she's not the sort of person who commits to one unless she's sure. She's one thing when a reaction comes naturally and another when it's not natural, and when it's the latter, she seems less sphinx-like than waiting for an instinct. It's a performance that works in large part because the audience can see her and her family's story even before the film makes sure the blanks are all filled in; they've struggled to make something of themselves and still show some of the muck they've fallen into along the way, and having the good that has come into her life ripped away seems extra devastating.

In between, there's a really fantastic stretch in a courtroom where Akin uses the formality of the legal system to play with the way he frames things, doing things like putting Kruger's reacting face in the foreground while the main action plays out in the other half of the screen or making interesting use of the room full of right angles (and only a few asymmetries) with a telling lack of ornamentation as the court does its important business. The whole segment terrifically staged, and Aiken uses it to build the emotion of the movie in a way that always feels natural until the tension is almost unbearable.

"In the Fade" is a simple story, easily described and obviously a showcase for Kruger, and it is terrific as that. That it's also an exemplary example of using many small-seeming things to build that uncomplicated narrative into something that commands the audience's attention is what makes it terrific beyond that.

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originally posted: 10/27/17 04:53:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 AFI Fest For more in the 2017 AFI Fest series, click here.

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  DVD: 01-May-2018


  DVD: 01-May-2018

Directed by
  Fatih Akin

Written by
  Fatih Akin
  Hark Bohm

  Diane Kruger
  Denis Moschitto
  Numan Acar
  Samia Muriel Chancrin
  Johannes Krisch

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